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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, February 10, 2014

STORIES TO TELL

"Gray hair gained in a righteous life is a crown of glory."
Proverbs 16:31

Everyone knows they're going to die some day, I expect.  Its a matter of life, we grow old, we die, and too many don't get old.  As children we're exposed to death in small ways, such as when a pet dies or an elderly relative.  We understand it at some level.
When you're young, this concept of death is at a theoretical level.  You understand that death is coming for you some day, but its so remote and you are so vibrant and healthy it is abstract, something distant.  As you get older, that changes.
I'm at the age now I'm starting to hear about people my age and people I knew in school and in my youth dying.  I don't check the obituaries like some, but I hear about it.  There was a girl I kind of had a crush on in high school who went to my church, she died of cancer.  I've had some of my older friends die.
Its a strange thing growing older.  I'm almost 50 years old, and not that long ago, that seemed incredibly old.  50 is the kind of age that makes young people sort of cringe inside; wow you're so ancient.  For me, recent history is long in the past for a young person.  I remember watching manned moon shots on grainy black and white TV, and kids think that's like the Civil War era.
As I grow older now, time becomes more precious. I am a writer, but it takes me about a year to finish a book and get it on the shelf.  I can't work any faster than that, no matter how I try.  In theory I could crank out books faster, but it would get me so sick and down it would take months of no production to recover, so the end result is the same.
At one book a year, at age 48, that's not a lot of books I have left in me.  I estimate I have more book ideas and plans than years left to write them all.  My family is generally long-lived, but my health has never been good, so who knows how long I actually have left?
Aging is like driving down a road.  When you're young you see the sign that says "Death, next exit" and shrug.  The exit isn't in sight, the road is wide and clear, and the wind feels good in your hair.  Getting to my age, especially someone as introspective and analytical as I tend to be, that exit is in your headlights.
Every year seems to go by faster as well.  When I was a child, waiting a whole year for Christmas or my birthday, or six months for Summer Vacation seemed interminable.  Now a year is something I shrug at.  Not too long; I can wait that long.  But at the same time, a year is more precious.
Its like a loaf of bread.  When you take that first crust or heel off the end, you have lots of bread left.  When you're down to the last few slices, now you start thinking about whether you really need that toast.  I only have a few slices left; more than someone truly elderly, but I can see the end of the loaf.
I don't mean to sound depressing, honestly there are more than a few days I wish I'd just get it over with, and I have a glorious hope to look forward to.  This is as bad as it gets for me, this life.  But at the same time for the first time in my entire existence I have some reason to want to stick around, I have stories to tell.
As I age, the experience is odd.  So many things I am confidently used to now young people are struggling to understand and grasp.  I don't care about being popular, attractive, or stylish, although it never was much of a concern for me.  I'm beyond that, it doesn't matter.  Like me or don't, I'm still here.
My 16 year old niece told me once that she couldn't understand old people; it was understandable, as she'd had almost zero personal experience with any.  I told her they're just like you, but older.  And its true. I thought by getting older I'd change and become wiser and more capable in the world, as my parents seemed to be.
In some ways I am, but in too many ways, I'm the same guy I was decades ago. I'm still just me.  I am more used to many things, I've seen the way through some very hard times and know them from both sides now, and I've got a huge catalog of experiences and observations tested and confirmed I can draw from that young me didn't, but I'm fundamentally the same guy.
And that's what's difficult to explain.  When you're 16 you have so little experience and so few years to give any sense of proportion that someone at age 48 seems incredibly old and must be so much different.  They aren't, really.  They're just more practiced at life.  Its like someone starting a game and someone who has played it for years.  They're still the same person, they are just very experienced at the game.
And that's life; the game takes years to get good at, and by the time you're really an expert you can't play it very well any more.  Sort of like martial arts; by the time you're a truly great master, you're so old you can't even use the skills you learned very well any more.
I see around me constantly the efforts of people my age and older desperate to not get old or die.  Glenn Reynolds' fixation on anti-aging science is sort of sad, like someone fighting against time.  Science will keep me young and virile!  No it won't.  Even if it adds a few years to your life, chances are the cost will be so high in money and side effects it won't be worth it.
The Boomers are getting so old now they need products associated only with the very elderly, but as I've written about before, advertisers know that boomers want to think of themselves as perpetually young.  Remember those golden glorious years of around 20?  Boomers think they're always that age, or at least hate to be reminded they aren't.
So you get pathetic ads like this one by Depends:

Guard your manhood!  Its not adult diapers, its Man Guard by Depend!  All the guys are dudes, they're young and strong, and nary a gray hair in sight!  And nobody like that needs freakin' adult diapers.  All of the ads are like that.  Ads for viagra are about rough, tough, strong men with chiseled features, doing manly things and the ad is about competence and strength!
Its pathetic.  The concept of aging gracefully is absolutely gone.  Nobody wants to accept their age, nobody wants to be proud of their gray hair.  I like the silver in my hair, I worked years for everyone of those hairs.  
Getting old isn't bad.  Nobody seems to get that any more.  Yes, the physical affects of getting old suck, but the actual aging isn't bad.  Age means you've earned at least some degree of wisdom, but the culture we live in despises that wisdom and everyone wants to pretend they're young and stupid.
I'm not 20 years old.  I could have a 12 year old grand child now.  I'm more than double the age of 20.
I don't want to be 20 again, even with all I know now.  In fact, the thoughts of going through youth again even with all the things I know now sounds frankly ghastly.  And people who want to cling to a youth they've left behind long ago are idiots.
Be and act your age.  Show dignity and maturity.  Stop pretending you are young when you are not, be who you are.  There are few more wretched sights than a 40 year old pretending they are 18.  Stop wearing the T shirt with the ironic slogan, stop flirting with the young girls.  Be grown up, its okay.
You don't have to become the comical old man or old lady, its okay to be dignified and attractive, just don't  think that means young.  Older people are leaders and examples to the young, even if the young reject it.  They're influenced by what they see.
If you act wisely, with honor, humility, and discernment, then people will learn from you and think about what you did and said later in their life.  Being old doesn't mean dull and losing hope, it means learning to be more mature.
Its okay to have fun, but don't have fun like a 19 year old frat boy or 21 year old party slut.  Have fun like an adult.  Its okay to be silly once in a while, but remember you are the grown up at the party, not another one of the kids.
The thing about aging that changes everything for me at least is that understanding of the end of the bread loaf.  Young people can't have that perspective, so they can't learn anything from it, but older people can.  All the things that seemed to matter so very much when you're young are put in so much better a perspective.
Its just different to go through, is all.  And each stage of life, we all face for the first time and have to work through.  The answer to this, like in all things, is to face it head on and get through it, not hide away or pretend its not there.  And its definitely not to pretend its something else.

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